Last week, the new members of NASSP’s Student Leadership Advisory Committee came to our nation’s capital for their first annual meeting and to attend the 2018 DC Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) Conference. At the meeting and conference, the new committee learned how to be advocates for their schools, their communities, and their generation. As a member of NASSP’s advocacy team, I had the pleasure of working with these incredible young people throughout the week, and I believe we learned as much from them as they did from us.
The first Student Leadership Advisory Committee was formed during the 2016–2017 school year with the goal of uniting students from National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and National Student Council around a shared initiative. “Global citizenship” was chosen by the inaugural class as the initial focus, with five specific areas for leadership and action: civic engagement, positive social change, equity, empathetic actions, and awareness and perspectives.
In their inaugural meeting last week, the new 2018 committee was tasked with strategizing a plan of action for completing the current initiative, which runs through the end of this year, and drafting a new focus for the group that will launch for 2019–2020.
The committee—comprised of incredibly bright, engaged, and forward-thinking students and advisers representing diverse perspectives from across the country—dove headfirst into developing a plan for action regarding the current global citizenship initiative, tying in advocacy for federal education policy as one of the primary objectives. Specifically, the students identified funding for Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which supports safe and healthy school activities, well-rounded education programs, and the effective use of technology in schools, as a critical advocacy priority. Adequate funding of Title IV is essential to supporting the goals of the committee’s initiative, and the group was determined to make their voices heard about it. After a day of advocacy training and policy overview, we were ready to take our eight middle and high school student leaders and their six principals and teacher advisers up to Capitol Hill.
The 2018 NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee Hill Day was a huge success, and our group did an outstanding job of advocating for Title IV funding as well as promoting the global citizenship initiative with their members of Congress. Every student and adviser had at least two meetings with their representatives, and there were times we had trouble staying on schedule because students had their elected officials so engaged in conversation.
I was especially impressed with how effectively they were able to weave personal stories into advocacy conversations and make strong, impassioned asks. It was clear that our group not only fully grasped the nuances of a complex issue like Title IV, but they also understood how that money directly impacted themselves, their schools, and their communities. Esther told Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) about the early college high school she attends that will help to prepare her for postsecondary success. She found out that Senator Carper spearheaded the foundation of that very program in Delaware, and he was inspired to hear the real impact it was having. Although the committee he serves on was holding another hearing at the time, he stepped out of the room to meet with what he called “the fruit of his labor.”
In another instance, Devlin told Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) about a business program that had been cut at his school due to lack of funding. With more Title IV dollars, he said, business, vocational, and other career-oriented programs would be available to better prepare our nation’s students for the workforce. To extend and amplify their Hill Day message beyond the meetings themselves, the committee also organized Hill Day advocacy on social media around their #MakingGlobalChange hashtag.
After the Hill Day, the committee had some time to explore the history and sights of Washington, D.C., but the break didn’t last long. Not satisfied with training in advocacy and promoting the global citizenship initiative themselves, the students led their own advocacy 101 presentation with 2,000 of their peers at the 2018 DC Leadership Experience and Development (LEAD) Conference. They harnessed the skills and experience of their recent training and Hill Day into two standing room only workshops that captured and inspired the audience. By the end of each session, new student activists were asking how they could become more involved with the initiative and better advocate for their own causes in schools and communities.
If I learned one thing from my time with NASSP’s new Student Leadership Advisory Committee last week, it’s that America’s youth cares deeply about the future of our country, and they are prepared to stand up and mobilize for what they believe in. It was a privilege to meet the new group, and I can’t wait to continue working and advocating with them.
The 2018–2019 NASSP Student Leadership Advisory Committee
Esther Abiona—Early College High School at Delaware State University, Dover, DE
Devlin Andrews—Coventry High School, Coventry, RI
Tiffany Garcia—Palm Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
Lauren Kimzey—Hamilton High School, Hamilton, MT
Sydney Neal—St. Mary’s Ryken High School, Leonardtown, MD
Nadine Rodriguez—The TASIS School in Dorado, Dorado, PR
Jack Tucker—Carroll Senior High School, Southlake, TX
Billy Wermuth—North Penn High School, Landsdale, PA
Kevin Gaines—Hart County High School, Hartwell, GA
Mallanie Harris—Palm Middle School, Moreno Valley, CA
Robert Motley—Glenwood Middle School, Glenwood, MD
Chuck Puga—Smoky Hill High School, Aurora, CO
James Fahy—Dickinson High School, Dickinson, ND
Julie Kasper—Century High School, Hillsboro, OR
Melissa Arroyo—The TASIS School in Dorado, Dorado, PR